Isle of Mull - February 2019
Well, Storm Erik you’ve got a lot to answer for! As the storm hurtled towards the UK coastline, we had to hastily rearrange our travel plans. Originally we were going to stay in Oban overnight on the Thursday and catch the ferry on the Friday morning but with forecasted gusts of up to 60mph, Mother Nature had other plans. A few phone calls later we had changed the ferry and were able to check in to our accommodation a night early so travelled across on the Thursday instead. With a quick supplies (Prosecco) shop and mad dash to Oban we caught the 4pm ferry across to Craignure.
It’s really quite strange to see the ferry terminal so quiet compared to when we usually travel over. As a whole it was a great time to visit the island, at times it felt like you had it to yourself and you could go quite a while without seeing any other cars, unlike during the summer time. We’d taken advice from Alex Keivers (Mull Charters) about when to visit the island and despite the weather it was absolutely worth it.
Normally we tend to stay in Tobermory but without our Husband’s in tow we took the opportunity to stay in a more remote location on the south of the Island. We stayed at the Dobhran Croft (pronounced Dorran - the Gaelic word for Otter) in Lochbuie and it was perfect.
After wandering around the wrong cottage garden (oops) we found our pre-lit, heated cottage a little further along the road. There was already some welcome residents in the garden in the form of a rather pretty female Red Deer and her companions. From reading the guest book we discovered this was actually Sacha and her friends, the inquisitive deer who sought out the cottage in the hopes of a wee carrot or apple.
Whilst not as friendly as the deer in Glen Etive (which is actually a good thing) they were entertaining and as soon as she saw the lights on in the cottage she came running over the fields to see what we had to offer.
Flora, the lovely owner of the croft had sorted us out with beautiful home cooked meals from the Lochbuie Larder. Now, we’re smart women but the stress of the day had clearly numbed some brain cells. The meals were frozen and we’d read on the label that it needed de-frosted before cooking. Bit of a pain but given we weren’t supposed to stay there until the Friday we thought, ok that’s fine - we’ll let it de-frost meaning it was ham sandwiches for tea (very exciting) It wasn’t until the we went to cook dinner the next night we realised the label actually said “cook from frozen for double the time” Major facepalm moment for both of us. The food was lovely though so if you’re in the area it’s well worth visiting the larder.
Thursday evening continued with our usual first night prosecco fest and lots of dancing around the house and creating a playlist for Kate’s gym classes (the best gym in West Lothian, check out Steve Marsden Fitness...!!). How we ended up singing “I just can’t wait to be king’ from the Lion King, I’m not too sure but it was fun. It’s worth mentioning I can’t hold a tune to save my life but Kate’s got a great singing voice :-)
Friday was a write off - with winds of 60mph+ it wouldn’t have been sensible to drive around the island looking for wildlife, which would likely be hiding away or difficult to spot anyway. Taking a safety first approach we spent the day in the house watching TV but were treated to a fly by (more of a blown by though) of the ghostly male Hen Harrier.
They’re beautiful silver birds with black wing tips and a joy to see. Is it a coincidence that with no grouse moors on Mull there’s a healthy population of this heavily persecuted species? Intriguing and telling, that’s for sure.
The wind and rain battered off the house and it wasn’t until the Saturday night we realised just how quiet the location was without Storm Erik providing natures soundtrack. It did disguise any noises coming from the house though and we have decided the banging we heard during the night were the deer at the door. Anything else just sends your imagination wild!
Saturday we set off early and headed for Pennyghael to do some landscape and wildlife stuff - it was still quite blowy though and the tides weren’t in our favour. We drove through the Tiroran forest and up to the viewpoint over Ulva, Inch Kenneth, and the Treshnish Isles. I decided I didn’t want to get blown away so took refuge in the car with a packet of Jelly Babies and watched Kate attempt to video the view.
It was all going so well until I dropped the sweets all over the car at the same time Kate wanted me to open the door and pass her phone out. I had a choice to make - do I want to save the JB’s or help out my Sister. I did what every normal person would do and ensured all babies were accounted for and then gave Kate her phone ;-)
We travelled round to our favourite Otter spot and crawled along the shore, keeping our eyes peeled for that first exciting glance of a tail flicking out the water. We didn’t have to wait too long to see one but did have to spend some time tracking it along the beach, where it promptly came on shore right behind a rock. Further along the Loch we thought we’d hit the jackpot with two Otters! Kate looked more closely though and it was just mesh from some metal in the water. Very typical when looking for Otters.
That night was clear to attempt some astrophotography but we didn’t spend a massive amount of time on it as we knew the next night was forecast to be better. Instead we tried out some painting with light for the first time and it’s definitely good fun. A few cheap sets of fairy lights from Primark and we got some fun shots. Not the most adventurous you’ll see but you have to start somewhere and we don’t normally get the chance to be in such a dark environment where we live. Light pollution has a lot to answer for!
Sunday, well - what an OTTER-ly amazing day. In total we saw 8 Otters, which is without a doubt our best day watching them on Mull. After doing some landscape photography on the north side of Loch Na Keal we visited a site we’d seen Otters at before and parked up to watch.
We drove a little further up to park away from the other cars and within seconds saw two furry little brown bodies scarper across some rocks. We heard them calling quite loudly so knew they weren’t out in the water. Waterproofs on and some army crawling across boggy ground I found the perfect spot, out of their sight and low against the rocks. Meanwhile, Kate, meant to be capturing landscapes was instead sitting in the car munching her way through mums home made gingerbread wildlife cookies!
At first I thought they were mating but quickly realised it was a mother and cub who were just playing about. It looks like the Mother has had an injury since I last saw her and appears to be completely blind in one eye. It didn’t seem to stop her though and they rolled about in the kelp, whilst she was feeding her cub. It was really beautiful to watch and at points I put down the camera and just enjoyed the moment of being in the presence of them both.
We saw a further 4 Otters as we headed up the road, 2 of which were already in the sights of a photographer and 1 who was just swimming up the Loch. Out on the Reef were two White Tailed Eagles having a good stand. Too far for a picture but great to see these majestic birds whilst you’re in Mull. Before we left Loch Na Keal we spotted one eating a fish in the sunlight and got ourselves in a safe position to watch him finish off his lunch before taking to the kelp to find his next meal.
Further round the coast we stopped to have lunch and not 1 but 2 Otters appeared in the water just below the car! How much better could this day get! We watched them for a while and made our way to photograph them. It wasn’t the best section of shore as there wasn’t a lot of rock cover to hide behind but we kept with them until we got to a more suitable vantage point.
It was also where a herd of rather large Cows had decided to congregate. We got moo’d at by a few of them but they weren’t really that bothered about us thankfully. Going by the smell when we got back in the car one of us had clearly stepped in something particularly unpleasant and with Cows around, you never know what that could be. We figured however that it was the extremely soggy, deep, and smelly seaweed I’d stepped in a few times and it was rancid. It smelled like death by sea and was all over my boots. Joyful.
The Otters came up on shore but disappeared behind a rock and we assume went for a snooze so we left them to it and went back to the car via a chat with a lovely local farmer about Mull and how he sees Otters all the time (Jealous, us…never!)..... a couple of stops to capture some more of the gorgeous landscapes on Mull and back to our cozy cottage.
That night the conditions for photographing the stars exceeded our expectations. Barely a cloud to be seen and the sky full of stars we were somewhat taken aback by just how stunning it is. Everyone should get out to somewhere with minimal light pollution and witness it at least once in their lives. There are two dark sky parks in Scotland - The Galloway Forest Park and in the Glen Livet / Tomintoul area of the Cairngorms. There’s something very grounding about watching the night sky and realising just how vast the solar system is and how small we are in comparison. We’ve got an app downloaded which you can use to identify constellations and its cracking (It’s called SkyWalk and available on Android/Apple).
We had the Milky Way directly above the cottage, which Kate caught beautifully and is definitely a shot to be proud of - especially since it’s not something we’ve got a lot of practice in. We’re fairly certain you can see Andromeda near the top left of the picture. Let us know if you can see it too :-)
What’s very disconcerting however was Sacha and her friends watching us in the pitch black with only the outlines of their bodies showing and their eyes shining in the torch light. Yeah, yeah - they’re only Deer but they were quite keen to jump the fence and we didn’t want to come across 3 large animals in the pitch black!
After another Hen Harrier sighting, a quick clean up, and some photos of the croft, we took to the road for the lovely drive to Craignure and the ferry home. We had a chat with Flora who was telling us about their plans for a tea room and shop down at Loch Buie so we’ll definitely put that on the cards for future visits. If the meals she provided us with are anything to go by then it’ll be a great place to go.
Much like leaving the Cairngorms, heading home after a few days on Mull is always quite sad and we’d love to have spent more time on the island but we just need to look forward to the next trip! I’m back in May and September and Kate heads up to the Highlands again next month which is keeping us going. We’ve got a week together in Aviemore in the Summer for Ospreys, Pine Martens, Squirrels, Hares, and Dolphins! This is in amongst everything else we have planned in between.
As always, we have made a video of our latest trip and we would love it if you could check it out, we're still practicing with this and it wasn't easy competing with storm Erik, however you will get a lovely visual flavour of our most recent adventure to Mull.
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